Show Us Your Space: Mad Dog Ranch Studios in Aspen

Ralph Pitt, engineer and partner at Mad Dog Ranch Studios (MDRS) located just outside Aspen, Colorado, says that he and the rest of the team at MDRS were very fortunate.

"We chanced to happen upon a facility that had a history of belonging to legendary and well-respected musicians," Pitt says. "Jimmy Buffett owned the property—had built the garage and office that later became the studio facility. Glenn Frey of the Eagles purchased the property from Jimmy."

The rooms were built correctly, so whatever gets captured sounds at it should. Whether listening to something prerecorded or fresh from the studios, one hears everything." - Ralph Pitt

After Glenn took over the grounds, he hired Frank Comentale, the studio designer behind New York City’s Hit Factory, to build the studio itself. "The rooms were built correctly, so whatever gets captured sounds at it should," Pitt says. "Whether listening to something prerecorded or fresh from the studios, one hears everything."

When Pitt took over as head engineer in July 2016, he says he "chose to partner the analog and digital worlds" by pairing a Rupert Neve-enhanced analog desk with the iZ RADAR hard disk recorder. They monitor through Dynaudio Acoustics speakers. "As for the rest of the hardware," Pitt says, "there are stories that go with it all."

The studio is situated along the Snowmass Creek River, on six acres of quiet, private land—a serene location conducive to a reflective, creative retreat. Read below as Pitt gives us a guided tour through Mad Dog Ranch. All photos are by Stephen Paul Photography. Ralph Pitt told us that the photos were "a magnificent gift from him and one of our clients, Paul Herman, and we are very grateful for them."

Click here to check out our last installment of Show Us Your Space in Vouvray, France, and stay tuned for the next one in a couple of weeks.

Amek Recall RN56

The custom modified Amek Recall RN56—all-analog signal path with RN computer assisted dynamics. Originally procured for Wynonna Judd in ‘99, it toured with her for two seasons. I purchased it for a nightclub I built in Aspen, where it lived for five-and-a-half years before it came to MDRS in 2016.

It features a Rupert Neve-designed signal path, preamps, EQs, and a comprehensive recall package—all knobs and switches can be stored and recalled at will. The desk can run Amek's SuperTrue studio software (which allows SMPTE chase of fader control and automation of mutes) as well as the live version, Showtime.

Studio A Producer’s Desk

This bit of furniture was part of Frank Comentale's work done for Glenn Frey, and serves our purposes well. Devoid of stools and thrones for the photo session, you are looking from behind the producer's desk out into Studio A. Console with "remote tray" on the right, iZ RADAR Session Controller and of course Dynaudio monitors.

There is an M&K Subwoofer under the desk that is time-aligned with the near fields. Time alignment is for up to four positions, and is switched with the selection of the monitors (and can be excluded as well).

Recently we had a producer with a track record a few miles long sit in the control room and listen to a piece in its entirety. Turning from the desk, he said, "I wouldn't change anything."

Outboard Bay

Our left bay houses our outboard dynamics (not a great deal of these are living here as the console has onboard "Virtual Dynamics," i.e. gates and compressors for every channel), there are two DBX 900 racks with DBX and APHEX processing.

You will find an AMEK CIB—a Neve-designed channel strip with Neve compression and EQ—not all that different from the console, but in a strictly hardware format. (We love this when used with our ribbon mics.) There is a Tascam DA30 and a MOTU 896, as well as a pair of Brooke-Siren 901-II Parametric Dynamic Equalizers.

In the central bay, you’ll find our purpose-built, hand-wired TT patchbay, which connects Studio A and B to the desk and outboard toys. On the bottom of the bay, to accommodate "guest" processors or recorders, there is a custom 10-channel isolation bridge that is fully balanced—in and out—and a transformer coupled for galvanic isolation if needed.

In the right bay, you’ll find the Effects Rack: TC2290 with memory and sampling mods, Roland SDE 3000, Lexicon PCM 42, Peavey Kosmos (gen 1), Eventide H3000 with sampling mods, a three engine TC M5000 with ATAC, and a Yamaha SPX 900 (for those classic effects).

The Creek and the Deck

Looking south along Snowmass Creek. The creek runs almost year-round. There is a gated walking bridge over it from the "road side'" of the property. One example of the effect the grounds and studio has: a country artist who visited us this past summer expressed her desire to come back to "sit by the river and write."

These are shot from the parking lot near the creek. The second pic shows the almost piano-shaped deck and the fireplace. A great location to decompress.

Studio A and Studio B

Both rooms have twenty-four tie lines to the patch bay. Additionally, there are video feeds between the rooms and control room. Both rooms have custom headphone CUE systems with the ability to talk to anyone using them, as well as to the control room.

All three rooms—Studios A and B and the control room—have their own isolated HVAC.

The wood used for both buildings and the interior of A was brought down from a nearby town. The window is triple pane—one each in the studio and control room and a third in between. There are even skylights.

Studio B is the larger of the two spaces in the second building and the home to our 1885 Blüthner Baby Grand, which was originally owned by Jimmy Buffett and became the property of Glenn when he purchased the six-acre property from Jimmy. The Blüthner was left onsite when Glenn moved from this location to Los Angeles and a larger recording facility.

We have given it the love it was in need of, a humidifier, minor repairs, and a good tuning when appropriate. It was truly amazing to see a six-year neglected instrument come back to life as easily as it did. We have a client who comes to us all the way from Portland just to use our Blüthner. And, yes, it sounds amazing.

Have you assembled an awesome music space that you want to show off? Contact us at [email protected]

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